My dream to get tattoos was a constant dream throughout high school. This year, I made it a reality much to my parents’ dismay. After realizing that I’d accumulated five tattoos within ten months of my high school years, my parents questioned me loudly.
Instead of answering them directly, I wrote an article that outlined my reasons and those of other tattoo-owning university students. The purpose of this article is twofold: firstly, I’ve tried to figure out what it is about tattoos that draws people to them, and secondly, I want to assuage my parents’ worries regarding my delinquency by proving that I am involving myself in the enriching scholastic activity of university-level journalism.
People get tattoos for many reasons. They can be culturally oriented, or they may simply be for artistic reasons. These are the types that we will cover in this article.
Aesthetics and meanings
What is the purpose of a tattoo on someone? Interview with Varsity, Meghan Butcher, a third-year student in the Faculty of Music, said that a part of it may be rebellion, but went on to add, “I really liked the look of them. And I really liked the ones I’ve chosen. It’s a great idea. [they] just tell a really fun story.”
Butcher certainly isn’t the only one who finds the aesthetic of tattoos a compelling reason to get them. For me, the main draw was how cool it was to wear art on my body.
However, my first tattoo was ultimately for sentimental reasons — a scrabble bag with the letters on the tiles being the initials of my family members — as was Butcher’s first tattoo.
“I have the wings on my back [because] I was one of those kids who really wanted to just be a fairy,” Butcher said. “And so my grandma, when I was younger, would always tell me that she could see them growing… So I turned 17 and wanted a tattoo and was like, ‘Why don’t I just finally get my fairy wings?’”
Some people find tattoos very sentimental. Julia Ramsey, a second-year engineering student, only plans to get one tattoo: a word in Malayalam paired with forget-me-nots to commemorate her grandmother. While she still hasn’t fully dedicated herself to getting a tattoo, she told Varsity It looks very attractive, even though it is already on her necklace.
“I do love the necklace, but specifically because [the word] relates to memory and forgetting people — it [would feel] somewhat poignant to have that on my skin forever, you know?” Ramsey said.
Tattoos can be more than just aesthetic. For example, I’ve never really liked my body, in a general sense and in a transgender sense, but covering it in art makes me like it. Beyond that, tattoos have been something I’ve wanted for a long time, so being able to have them feels like a form of self-realization.
Interview with Varsity, Alex Wang, a second-year political science student, described a similar outlook. “Growing up, I was a very insecure kid about my appearances and everything,” Wang said. “I think to me, getting these tattoos [is] fulfilling, but… it’s [also] kind of like a form of self-expression.” While Wang has long wanted tattoos for that very reason, he is only just beginning the process of scheduling his first tattoo appointment.
It is not necessary to have a tattoo in order to obtain one.
What is stopping people getting tattoos? Why do people hesitate like Ramsey? Why was it so slow for Wang and me? Well for young people, a part of it can be traced back to parental or family pressure; as I mentioned before, my parents aren’t necessarily thrilled about all of the tattoos I’ve acquired.
But often, even if your family isn’t fully on board, that isn’t a deal breaker. “My mom, I think, isn’t thrilled,” Ramsey said. “But she’s very respectful of my own bodily autonomy.”
It is possible for family to be much more open-minded than you might expect. “I told my family and then my mom was like, ‘Oh, just get a small one,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ I mean, it’s just that it’s not that big of a deal,” Wang said. Butcher’s grandmother even got a tattoo of her own.
There are certainly some people who feel that family is an obstacle to their dreams, but the majority of those affected by this issue have a financial one. Tattoos are expensive, especially if you’re a college student on a budget. To get tattoos, you need to dedicate time and money.
However, tattoos continue to be popular. And while there is a certain level of nervousness they can invoke, their appeal as a form of self expression through sentimental symbolism, self realization, or simply showcasing art that you enjoy, is undeniable. For me at least, it sounds great to carry my favorite art around with me for long periods of time.